How to Read 100 Books a Year
My top five reading tips that will help you read more, much more
In December 2019 I decided to take my yearly reading challenge up a notch and read 100 books in 2020. It seemed like a crazy idea back then. Yet, I managed to read 100 books last year. It was tough but definitely doable.
A hundred books is a nice, round, and slightly ridiculous reading goal. It made for perfect water cooler conversation (in the world where water coolers existed). When you tell people you plan to read 100 books this year, their eyes widen in disbelief, their jaws drop slightly. It’s a marvelous sight.
Since I started being public about my challenge, people have often asked me how I managed to read so much. They wanted to know my secret.
Spoiler: there is no secret, but there are tips that will help you read more, much more.
1. Make more time for reading
When I say I read so much, people usually assume that I either speed read or read really short books (yeah, say it to a 1,000-page biography of Napoleon I read in summer). There must be a mystery, a trick of some kind, they think.
Well, there is not.
I am a fast reader, but I don’t use any special technique to speed read. Neither do I specifically choose to read only short books. That being said, you would have to be a special sort of a psycho to only read short books in order to succeed in a reading challenge and write blog posts about it later on.
Do you still want the secret? Here it is: I just spend a lot of time reading. That’s it. I read no less than an hour every day, on weekends I can read for 2–3 hours. If I am sick in bed or I am on vacation, I can read for 4–5 hours a day.
Where do I get the time? Well, I don’t watch Netflix. On top of that, I don’t have kids or a second job. In my opinion, if you don’t have kids and work just one job, the reason why you don’t have time to read is Netflix. Or perhaps PlayStation. Or TikTok.
Or a dog. That’s a big one. From what I’ve heard, the upkeep of an average dog can take up to 4 hours a day. Four hours a day on a dog. And then people then ask me where I get the time to read or write…
Once you eliminate the things that steal your time from your schedule, you can simply use this time for reading. If this doesn’t work for you, create a reading schedule, and stick to it. Book a 20-minute reading slot in the morning (the time you are checking Instagram stories or Twitter can be used for reading), a 20-minute reading session during a lunch break, and a 20-minute reading session before you go to sleep. Here you go, magically you are reading an hour each day and you are on your way to reading dozens of books a year. You are welcome.
In all seriousness though, if you want to read more, you need to use every available free minute for reading. There are some easy tricks you can use to help you get into this new habit of reading.
Keep a book on your desk. When you need a break at work, don’t go to Facebook—open a book instead and read a few pages. You can’t do that with any book: but you can get through a lot of fiction this way, and reading fiction is a wonderful way to meditate, calm down and take care of your inner artist.
Make sure you have a book with you at every moment. Some people carry physical books in their bags, others stick with e-readers or smartphones. The medium is less important than the fact that you have access to reading materials at all times. The idea is that whenever you are stuck in traffic or in a doctor’s line, reading a book or listening to an audiobook should be a default way to kill time for you. Removing social media apps from your phone is one step in the right direction.
Get physical books (buy or borrow from a library). Not every book deserves to have a physical representation in your home, but there are lots that definitely do. Having a real book lying around can serve as a physical reminder that you need to read. Sometimes I find myself spacing out in a room when my eyes fall down on a book lying on a sofa. I stop spacing out and flip through the pages for 10–15 minutes. Those little chunks of time really do add up.
These are all fairly simple tips, but as it often happens with simple tips, they are not easy to implement. Be patient with yourself when you embark on the journey of reading more. You’ve been gaining harmful non-reading habits for years, it would be naive to expect to change them in a week. You can start by slowly reducing the time you waste on social media or Netflix, and over time it will be much easier to give up on those activities entirely.
2. Make a public commitment to read more
It’s helpful to have an external accountability system when you have an ambitious goal. I’ve always used Goodreads reading challenges to keep me motivated. Last year, for the first time ever, almost all of my colleagues became my friends on Goodreads. What it meant was that everyone could see how much I was reading or not reading. In some twisted way, it motivated me to stay on track with my reading, though I doubt anyone cared about my reading challenge.
Another awesome way to get an external pressure system is to join a book club. I actually started a book club at work. It turned out to be a great way to get through some extremely challenging books with my colleagues. With a book club, you always have a deadline for the next meeting, and the book needs to be finished by then, no matter how tedious.
3. Read widely and impulsively
Most readers have a topic they are obsessed with at a certain period of time. That’s fine. However, you should also remember to read something outside your sphere of interests on a regular basis. Reading widely can help you discover new topics and new voices you were not aware of before and keep your interest in reading alive.
If you see a book that grabs your attention, go ahead and read it. If you don’t do it immediately, chances are you will forget about your impulse and never get to that book. If I watch a movie about a topic that touches me, I try to immediately find something connected to the topic and start reading it. If I hear someone mention a book that sounds relevant to what I am interested in at the moment, I try to find it immediately. If a certain event is occupying the news and is weighing on me, I try to immediately find time to read a book on the topic while I am still interested in it. In March 2020 I read a detailed history of the Spanish flu, in June 2020 I attempted a deep dive into race history and politics (it failed because most of the widely recommended books on the topic are so badly written).
The idea behind this tip is to beat down your internal resistance to reading. Reading needs to be fun, and it’s much easier to be engaged if you are reading something that is top of mind at the moment.
4. Drop the books that you hate
For a long time, I’ve believed you have to finish every book you have ever started. Well, actually, you don’t. The obsession with finishing each and every book can help you complete a reading challenge much quicker but it can also damage your reading habits and put you off reading for a while. For many people, the act of reading itself is tough enough. If you are just building up your reading muscles, don’t force yourself to finish books you don’t enjoy at all.
There are many great books that are extremely tough to read: either they are about a complex topic, or their language is above one’s intellectual level. There are techniques to read books above your level, but yet again, this is not something a novice reader needs to try. Be honest with yourself: if you don’t enjoy a book, try something else.
5. Read several books at a time (if you feel like it)
There is another toxic reading habit that’s quite popular: the belief that you can only read one book at a time. In reality, avid readers often read several books simultaneously.
I usually read three to four books at any given moment in time. There is usually a programming book I am working through, one or two non-fiction books, and a fiction book. This allows me to stay interested in all of the books and eventually finish them: whenever I need some time to process what I’ve learned in one book, I can simply switch to another book and come back later. This technique gives me a more balanced reading schedule.
And no, the books don’t get all mixed up in my head 😂
What about you? Which habits help you read more? Are there reading habits you’d like to build this year? Let me know by leaving a comment.
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